Law Alone Won't Do
If law could be the sure guarantee to good conduct of people, perhaps Muslims would have been rated as the best of the nations. This not being the case old adage that “a law is as good as its practitioners” seems more nearer to the truth in the prevailing circumstances when the Shariah awareness among Muslims is pitiably low, socio-economic status touching its nadir and detachment from their language is further alienating them from their culture.
The National Commission for Women’s recently released report on the status of Muslim women is indication enough that social rot is indeed deep in the Muslim society all across the country. Muslim women are unfairly divorced; curse of dowry affects Muslims as it does others and polygamy is another way to collect more and more dowry and wives. Saddled with children, mothers deserted by husbands are a harassed lot. Blatant denial of Mehr weakens their financial situation even more.
Islam had a given a set of social laws that were quite in keeping with biological and emotional role of the two sexes. Divorce and khula were a way out of a marriage that refuses to work. Polygamy was meant to secure the war widows within the realm of marriage and a guarantee against extra marital liaisons in the society. Mehr was a financial security for women. By providing for a short period of three months for maintenance, Islam had it as two-way balancing factor. First to ensure that a divorce should not ne made burdensome by tying it with maintenance. Second the very fact that the children were to be maintained by the father ensured that the couples avoided parting for fear of the emotional trauma the family might suffer. Triple talaqs at the interval of three months (the only method the Quran prescribes) allowed enough period for the couple to think over the pros and cons of the patch-up or break up. Finally, double share in heritance for the men was also in tune with more the financial responsibilities shouldered by the men while ensuring that women got more than what they deserved and needed.
Ideally, these laws should have put the Muslim women a notch higher than others. But alas! That is not what is commonly observed. Three talaqs at one go is almost the rule among men from the lower social strata. It has become a convenient tool to punish the erring women by uncouth and irresponsible men. More ironically, divorce is used when wives and in-laws refuse to comply with the demands for dowry. Polygamy has come in as additional facility for satisfying greed by gathering more dowry through more wives. While dowry has almost become obligatory, Mehr is becoming nominal and invariably denied or waived through consent obtained under duress in the tense final moments before husbands’ deaths. Result: more Muslim women are being burnt at the altar of the dowry, children are being rendered destitute, hospitals are brimming with undernourished Muslim kids and anaemic Muslim mothers, more Muslim kids are turning criminals.
We all accept that the Shariah is blameless. Why? Because it has worked flawlessly in the past and still works fine in several Muslim countries. The rot therefore is traceable to other factors. Possibly, lack of awareness about the Shariah among Muslims, lack of counselling of spouses before and after marriage, low socio-economic status, anonymity offered by big cities to people engaged in occupations such as drivers, scrape merchants, hawkers etc. who feel no social pressures to stick to recognized social mores and behaviour, huddled living in slums where free mixing of sexes is more and economic opportunities are less etc.etc.
Seen in this backdrop, it will be worthwhile for the Muslim ulema, intellectuals, advocates and the members of Muslim Personal Law Board meeting in Bangalore on October 28, 29 to take a holistic view of the social mess in the Muslim society. Mere insistence on letter of the Shariah and issue of “hands-off” warning sounds too superficial. Unfortunately, the religious class among Muslims comprises of more theology scholars than social scientists. While muftis can justifiably be perturbed over interference in the Shariah, as social scientists they ought to trigger the reform mechanism within the society. It is where our ulema must redine their role. They ought to be more musleh (reformers) and muzakki (trainer) of the people than mufti (jurists). Unless this happens, the societal structure will always be in peril of getting damaged by the internally mobile lava of social discontent.